For making private tutoring accessible and affordable for thousands of African students
Many K–12 schools in Africa have around 50 students for every teacher, and it’s estimated that 61 million African children will reach adolescence without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Nigerian-based edtech company uLesson aims to fill that gap with live lessons taught by expert tutors, a pre-recorded video library tailored to national curriculums, and test prep for key entrance examinations. The company currently operates in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Gambia, and is also available in the U.S. and U.K. In 2022, uLesson launched 1:1 private tutoring sessions in coding and math. The company also partnered with the Nigerian telecom company MTN to give free data to students, and started bundling affordable tablets with subscriptions so children could have their own devices to learn on. Rather than competing with schools, uLesson works with teachers: In 2022 more than 150 schools used uLesson to help students revise core curriculum and prepare for tests. Some uLesson learners have moved from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile in their class, and the company now has more than 3.5 million app downloads. Though small-scale tutoring platforms have existed in Africa before, uLesson is the continent’s first VC-backed edtech company. Since its founding in 2019, it has raised more than $22.5 million.
For using AI to identify the best cancer therapies for patients
Founded in 2012, Exscientia is pioneering the use of advanced artificial intelligence and technology to significantly accelerate drug discovery and development. In 2022, the U.K.-based company published results of its EXALT-1 clinical trial (demonstrating for the first time that an AI-powered precision medicine platform could predict which therapy would be the most effective for a patient with late-stage blood cancer) and signed the largest deal in its history, with Sanofi, to identify up to 15 novel, small-molecule drug candidates to fight cancer and immune-mediated diseases. Exscentia says end-to-end artificial intelligence can discover and design effective medicines more quickly and affordably than human beings can, and that testing new molecules on mice is inferior to Exscientia’s paradigm of testing new drug candidates directly on live human tissue samples and using AI to interpret results.
3. PAPAYA GLOBAL
For helping employers pay and manage a global workforce
While remote work may have opened the talent pool, many employers still struggle with the logistics of hiring, providing benefits, and managing payroll for employees living outside the company’s base country. Papaya Global is a workforce management software company based in Herzliya, Israel, that operates in more than 160 countries. Its platform not only helps with global hiring, it also consolidates all workflows into one place for tracking payroll spending, cross-border payment, and foreign exchange. Its consolidated data also lets companies track their DE&I—measuring gender equality, pay gaps, and more—and spot trends to improve employee retention. In 2022, Papaya Global acquired the digital cross-border payments service Azimo, allowing companies to better manage remote workforces. Papaya also announced partnerships with JPMorgan Chase and Citibank to deliver foreign exchange ACH payment options to employees. Papaya, which has more than 900 customers, has grown 300% year-over-year for the past 3 years and has raised $444.5 million.
4. URBAN CROP SOLUTIONS
For using plants to manufacture everything from make-up to vaccines
Belgium-based vertical farming company Urban Crop Solutions started in 2014 but stands out in 2022 for the launch of its PharmSpee platform, which allows its customers to use plants, instead of animal cells, in all sorts of manufacturing processes. So far PharmSpee has been used to make collagen for medical and cosmetic uses and to create vaccines. Many vaccines are created using fertilized chicken eggs, but PharmSpee uses plants as the bioreactors instead of eggs, which reduce the production time from six months to six weeks. In 2022, the company also launched a second research center in Spain, partnering with pharmacologist Rudi Pauwels, who helped develop a successful AIDS inhibitor. Urban Crop Solutions has also partnered with a biopharmaceutical company that is developing antibodies for the treatment of cancer. In 2022, the company’s revenue increased by 77%.
For bringing scale and efficiency to Africa’s sprawling network of small businesses
Africa has a massive informal economy of merchants. Sabi, a three-year-old Lagos, Nigeria–based B2B marketplace, is working to bring some of these 41 million small business owners online. On the Sabi platform, merchants can connect with manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers to buy products; manage their sales and inventory; track business performance; and even access financing via offline and online channels. In 2022, Sabi made moves to extend its services in South Africa, and the Sabi mobile app added a slew of customizable features. The company also rolled out more products to help offline merchants digitize their businesses with minimal effort. To further assist merchants in building their businesses, Sabi designed an internal credit evaluation system that enabled the facilitation of more than $70 million in credit to its users. Sabi, which raised raised $6 million in 2021, announced that year that it had already reached more than 150,000 merchants.
6. QURIS AI
For discovering a way to safely test new drugs without using animals
Drug testing usually involves animals, making for a long and sometimes unreliable process. Tel Aviv, Israel–based Quris, launched in October 2021, has developed a BioAI platform to help determine which drug candidates will safely work in humans, improving clinical safety prediction and reducing drug development costs and duration. Quris uses machine-learning to test drugs on miniaturized Patients-on-a-Chip. The unique process of replicating several organs, like the liver and brain, on a chip can help researchers better detect the toxicity of drugs that could be missed by mice studies. The process gathers, classifies, and continuously retrains the algorithm to be much more predictive of clinical safety and efficacy. The company, which completed a $28 million seed funding round in January, has started by focusing on rare genetic diseases that can’t be modeled in animals, such as fragile X syndrome, an inherited cause of autism. The company’s process has 18 granted and pending patents. Quris is now working with pharma giant Merck under a five-year contract to test its drugs using the Quris platform.
For cutting down the time companies spend translating legalese
Processing legal documents can be time-consuming (and soul-sucking) for companies of all sizes. London-based ContractPodAi uses AI to significantly streamline how companies manage their in-house legal processes via One Legal Platform, its contract management platform that launched in 2021. The company helps manage the full lifecycle of legal documents, offering guidance and AI assistant tools to automate everything from the authoring of documents, the approval, collaboration, and redlining processes, and the management of risk and compliance. The company rolled out a number of new tools in 2022 to expand its capabilities, including a new intake feature that makes generating documents easier and a quick view that allows users to view contract information in a summary. ContractPodAi reports that customers using the platform have seen up to a 10-day reduction in turnaround times on customer contracts and related documents and a 75% reduction in contract review time. The company’s clients now include global companies like AT&T Sports Network and Cigna.
8. SAATCHI & SAATCHI LONDON
For harnessing new technologies on behalf of social-good campaigns
The U.K.-based global marketing giant Saatchi & Saatchi used cutting-edge tech to bring awareness to social issues in 2022. For the social marketing and entertainment company RockCorps, the agency created a blockchain-verifiable “proof of volunteering” NFT that also helps to connect Gen Z volunteers with each other. To highlight the insidiousness of hate speech in women’s sports, Saatchi partnered with Cardiff University’s Hate Lab to monitor women soccer players’ accounts during games. The lab used AI to classify the hate and turn it into a visualization: Each type of hate created a different pattern. The agency, in partnership with creative technology company The Mill, then subverted the hatred by turning the patterns into designs for jerseys of 20 players for the EE Hope United team.
In 2022, the firm also created an air purifying playground in Warsaw (one of the most polluted cities in Europe) that uses children’s movements to convert nitrous oxide and other harmful pollutants into oxygen—creating its own clean microclimate. The project, a partnership with London-based architecture and design firm EcoLogicStudios, highlighted that 93% of children across the world play in polluted environments. More than 42 million people saw the campaign. Saatchi Ignite, the company’s DEI initiative, was reengineered in 2022 into an open platform for companies, schools, and educators to access playbooks, lesson plans, and workshops. In late 2022, Saatchi launched Upriser, a free, scalable schools platform that the agency hopes will introduce and open up the creative industries to underrepresented students in the U.K.
9. RELEAF PAPER
For turning fallen leaves into a new paper source
Ideas often come from a walk in nature. For Valentin Frechka, a walk in the forest in his native Ukraine inspired him to use fallen leaves to create paper. In 2021, he brought his prototype for paper products, which extracts high-quality cellulose from the leaves into production, generating 50 tons of paper. After the leaves are cleaned, their fibers are extracted through a chemical-free process, then mixed with bio-based fillers to produce paper and paper bags. In 2022, as Russia invaded Kyiv, where the company is headquartered, Releaf had to put some projects on hold, including partnerships with cosmetic brands NYX and Kiehl’s. But funding from a Google initiative to support Ukrainian startups helped propel the company’s growth. In 2022, Releaf added international customers including WWF, L’Oréal, and Samsung, and launched a branded website to sell its paper bags to small- and medium-size businesses in Europe and the U.K. The company now manufactures more than 100 tons of paper per month.
For making realistic prints more accessible and giving artists more opportunities
Austria-based startup Lito is using high-rendering 3D-printing technology to create realistic versions of artwork in direct collaboration with contemporary artists. Launched in spring 2022, LITO Editions have details such as depth, relief, and luster. LITO’s authentication technology, which includes a certificate of authenticity, allows artists, museums and collectors to certify and track ownership of each artwork edition. In the company’s first eight months, it received more than $1.1 million in orders. They are working with the renowned artists such as Erwin Wurm, Douglas Gordon, Peter Halley, Wang Guangle and Jia Aili, and support the cultural heritage with the Musée d’Orsay and The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.